Penn is an American magician, comedian, illusionist, juggler, bassist and a best-selling author known for his work with fellow illusionist Teller in the team Penn & Teller, and advocacy of atheism, libertarian philosophy, free-market economics, and scientific skepticism.
At age eighteen, he saw a show by illusionist James Randi, and became enamored of his approach to magic that openly acknowledged deception as entertainment rather than a mysterious supernatural power. Penn regularly acknowledges Randi as the one person on the planet he loves the most besides members of his family.
He worked with high school classmate Michael Moschen in developing and performing a juggling act during the years immediately following their 1973 graduation. In 1974, Penn graduated from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. That same year, he was introduced to Teller by Weir Chrisimer, a mutual friend. The three then formed a three-person act called Asparagus Valley Cultural Society which played in Amherst, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California. In 1981, he and Teller teamed up as Penn & Teller, and went on to do a successful on- and Off Broadway show called “Penn & Teller” that toured nationally.
In 1994 Penn purchased a home in Las Vegas and dubbed it “The Slammer”. It has been featured in dozens of television shows and articles and was designed by his friend Colin Summers. He currently records music there, and previously conducted his radio show, Penn Radio, at the studio inside “The Slammer”.
He was also a regular contributor to the now-defunct PC/Computing magazine in the early 1990s, having a regular back section column between 1990 and 1994. True to form, the columns were often as much about Uma Thurman as actual PC computing issues. Penn and PC Computing parted ways over a dispute with a new editor. He felt the new editor was trying to tell him how to write his column and what topics he should be covering. Penn asserts that he is unsure if he was fired or if he actually quit.
Penn was the primary voice announcer for the U.S.-based cable network Comedy Central in the 1990s.
Starting in 1996, he had a recurring role on “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” as Drell, the head of the Witches’ Council. He and Teller both appeared in the pilot with Debbie Harry as the third member of the Council. The show was created by Penn’s friend Nell Scovell.
For a brief time in 1997, he wrote bi-weekly dispatches for the search engine Excite.com. Each column ended with a pithy comment identifying which of the Penn & Teller duo he was. (For example: “Penn Jillette is the half of Penn & Teller that’s detained at airports.”) Penn made a habit of linking many words in his online column to wacky sites that generally had nothing to do with the actual words. The columns are no longer available on the current Excite.com site, but have been republished with permission at PennAndTeller.com.
Starting in 2003, Penn, along with his partner Teller, began producing and hosting the show “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” In the show, the two analyze cultural phenomena, debunk myths, criticize people and aspects of society they deem “bullshit”.
In 2005 with actor Paul Provenza, Penn co-produced and co-directed “The Aristocrats“, a documentary film tracing the life of a dirty joke known as “The Aristocrats”.
From January 3, 2006 to March 2, 2007, Penn hosted, along with fellow atheist, skeptic, and juggler Michael Goudeau, a live, hour-long radio talk show broadcast on the radio station brand known as Free FM. The show, Penn Radio, broadcast from his Vintage Nudes Studio in Penn’s Las Vegas home. On March 2, 2007, Penn, on Free FM, announced that he would no longer be doing his radio show. He stated that he is a “show biz wimp” and decided to stop doing the show so he could spend more time with his kids Zolten Penn Jillette and Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette.
During the 2006–07 television season, Penn hosted the prime time game show “Identity” on NBC-TV and in 2008, he was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.
In 2009, Penn did a spoken guest appearance on a song by Pakistani rapper Adil Omar. The song was titled “Spookshow” and produced by DJ Solo of Soul Assassins. The lyrics condemn religious extremism and encourage skepticism. It is set to be featured on a compilation album by Thick Syrup Records alongside artists like Matt Cameron of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Half Japanese and more.
On May 24, 2010, he began a daily show on Revision3 called Penn Point.
On August 16, 2011 Penn’s book “God, No! Signs You May Already Be An Atheist and Other Magical Tales” was released and made the New York Times Best Sellers in its first week of publication.
An avid upright bassist, Penn frequently accompanies jazz pianist Mike Jones, who opens for the magician’s Las Vegas show.
In 2010 the show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” began. Fool is a British entertainment comedy television program hosted by Jonathan Ross and Penn & Teller. It is a magic competition show which challenges magicians to perform in front of Penn and Teller. If they can fool Penn and Teller, they win a five-star trip to Las Vegas to perform as the opening act in Penn & Teller’s world famous show at the Rio Hotel & Casino.
“Penn & Teller Tell a Lie” is a six-part series starring Penn and Teller. Each episode contains 6–7 stories, one of which is made up, and the rest being true stories. During the show, viewers guess which story is the lie, voting on Discovery’s website, and the answer and voting results are revealed at the end. The show aired on the Discovery Channel in 2011.